Chilean President Sebastián Piñera is a white, conservative billionaire whose agenda includes counterterrorism measures, tougher standards on immigration, and regulatory changes aimed at boosting the mining industry and attracting foreign investment – sound familiar?
They call him “Chile’s Donald Trump,” and he isn’t alone. Right-wing leaders have also come to power in Brazil (Michel Temer in 2016) and Argentina (Mauricio Macri in 2015). For the first time in decades, South America’s three biggest economies are in the hands of conservative governments.
Sebastián Piñera was elected in December 2017 after campaigning on promises to lower taxes and combat economic “stagnation” caused by years of center-left rule. He served his first term as president from 2010 to 2014. He was both preceded and succeeded by socialist President Michelle Bachelet.
Among Piñera’s top priorities is to squash a violent rebellion by indigenous Mapuche Indian radicals in the Araucanía region of central Chile. This includes shutting down CONADI, a government land bureau that has been managing land transfers to indigenous communities.
Bachelet approved a 60% budget increase for CONADI despite increasing Mapuche attacks on businesses and Christian churches, causing many to suspect a massive racketeering scheme.
Piñera’s aides claim they have discovered cost overruns of more than $20 million in recent land transfers to so-called “indigenous communities,” some of which are composed by fewer than 10 people who may or may not be indigenous.
Liberals have accused Piñera of “militarizing” the situation in Araucanía and are urging him to address the conflict with “social and integral economic measures.”
Chile’s decision to elect a conservative is part of a trend in Latin America that was no doubt inspired by the total economic collapse in Venezuela following years of socialist rule.
“Like Trump, the recently elected presidents of Argentina and Chile, Mauricio Macri and Sebastián Piñera, are business moguls-turned-politicians who came into office praising the virtues of applying business strategies to the job of governing,” writes Omar Encarnacion. “This is a stark departure for Latin America, whose right-wing leaders have traditionally been military men on horseback.
Editor’s note: Latin countries are watching Venezuela’s socialist government go down the toilet, and this is pushing them to the right.